Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Nostalgia Factory

This post by Sara got me thinking about our nostalgia for childhood books and toys, and how the fond memories we have of these cherished items can distort our impressions of them. The Web is stuffed with so much retro content these days that it's usually very simple to track down an image and/or video of your favourite book, game, stuffed animal, or whatever. But when we do get access to such media, the products never seem to live up to our childhood memories of them. At least that's been my experience.

Recently I discovered the website sarien.net, which has reproduced several of the old computer game adventures published by the software company Sierra On-Line in the 1980s. The owner of the site actually took the original code for each game and recompiled it in Javascript, so they are all about as close to the originals as you can get.

This screen shot is a bit of a classic, and comes from the original King's Quest game, originally released in 1984:



Basically, each game lets you control a character that walks through a virtual world, one screen at a time, solving puzzles using a series of simple word commands (e.g. "TAKE KEY", "UNLOCK DOOR") Eventually you'd solve the final few puzzles and "win" the game, by becoming king, arresting a master criminal, or whatever.

It's hard to describe how much these games meant to me when I was young. But looking at them now, I can see that they're all quite lousy. The puzzles are silly, there are a million illogical ways to die in each, the graphics are iffy, and they're really all just pretty boring. Now, as per a legal agreement the site's owner made with Activision (the company that currently owns the rights to these games), only the first in each series is playable. And the graphics and games do improve over the years, but only slightly.



As I said, these games were so important to me in my childhood, and playing them opened me up to many interesting concepts and ideas.  But I can see that my interactions were contingent on the particular contexts in which they took place.  There are probably all kinds of games that I ignore now that will be just as cherished by today's kids.

Anyway, I guess the lesson is to trust your research more than you trust your memory.

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